Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs

Admittedly, I've always been an Apple guy. The interface was always more intuitive for me, and I just wanted my computer to be a tool, not a hobby. I wanted it to be seamless with the function I wanted it to do, and I wanted what interaction I did have to be esthetically pleasing. Like cooking in a pretty kitchen.
Now you don't need a pretty kitchen to cook a great meal, but I prefer it. Some of the best cooks I know have chaotic kitchens with pots and pans everywhere. And their food is great. But I end up frazzled in that kind of kitchen.

But Mr. Jobs, well, he saw further. He saw past just making a pretty kitchen, and wanted you to have an entirely new perspective on cooking. It's still cooking, but you can do it in a new way.

iMac, to iPod, to iPad. All of these devices are changing how we view and handle information and so many of the outcomes of these. The portability, the effortlessness of the interface. These let us focus on the task, not on how we do it.

And that, in my mind, is what good design is all about.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Had some friends over last night. Couple of Marxists (though we have argued about exactly what they are, so I may be a little off there - but you get the idea). We talked about the my new house reno, about the food they cooked for us - yes, they visit us and then cook. Awesome or what? I did supply the wine though, and there was a fair bit of it.

And we talked about politics. Not about the tactical back and forth that you see on the TV. Not even the policy that you see on some of the more in depth coverage shows that have a small (if dedicated) viewership. But about what we think the system should do. What the system means. All very meta stuff and I was thinking a lot about the culture that would yield a society where these kinds of conversations would be more prevalent.

Conversations  about what it means to live in the world we are in. Not always that meta shit, but also about policy, about what matters to us. Not just politics either, but arts and sports (doing and watching) and crafts and hobbies - stuff that has more substance - because fun is serious stuff.

And you know, serious topics can be presented in an interesting way. Look at any good documentary. So what is it in our culture that keeps us from doing this more. Are we all just too tired, or is it simply that we are getting shouted down by the latest ephemera from the world of reality TV.

And who makes that choice. Because its not just us. We can choose not to partake, but if the culture as a whole is screaming about the seasonal stars of Big Brother and the like, well it's difficult to talk over the nonsensical din.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Is it your fault Harper got in?

If you're under 45, the answer is probably yes.

In that age range you are probably engaged in social media, and disengaged from standard electoral politics. The Globe and Mail had an article on how badly Ekos screwed up their polling. They did this by failing to assume that if you're under 45 you're an apathetic fuck who can't get your increasingly obese ass of the couch and vote.

see here:

For a more complete analysis of how (if you didn't vote) you fucked up, look here:

Instead you're likely on facebook or some such shit where you get to feel connected to the world around you, to feel engaged. Even when you aren't.

Even when your apathy and your artsy left wing sensibilities and your carefully cultivated cynicism result in the reelection of someone who's policies the majority of Canadians disagree with.

And who will work hard to increase the gap between rich and poor (Union busting and Corporate tax breaks)

Well done. Bravo.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Vacation of Sorts

So I've just sent out my novel to members of my two writing groups, in hopes that they'll have a chance to read it and give me feedback. At 130K, I've finished it to a point where I want a sense of the thing as a whole before I rip it apart and put it back together.
I'm hoping we're talking minor surgery, not a full multiorgan transplant.

As a reward/sanity check, I've decided to take two weeks off of writing. Completely. Nothing on my shorts, no plotting on the other novel sitting on my shelf looking at me with big puppy dog eyes.

So now I don't really know what to do with myself. Even when I procrastinated, I was procrastinating on something. Now I don't have to procrastinate, or argue against it. Suddenly my weekends and evenings have no demands.
It's weird.

So I mowed the lawn. I was very thorough. Barb thought I looked a bit mad.

Now what?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Wealthy Consider the Poor, or, the trials of Noblesse Oblige

Couple of (slightly dated) articles in the Globe from Globe, Friday May 6 I'd like to comment on. The links are:
And an article from Christine Blatchford whom I use primarily to get my blood flowing when caffeine fails. Outrage is a great stimulant:

Both of these talk about the horrors of poverty and how it impacts society at large. The first article is useful reading in and of itself, though probably not that surprising. Poor, homeless people are a drag for everyone. They rely on emergency services more, they buy less (which is not ideal in a consumer economy), they have more trouble getting jobs because they have no resources.

If you're on the left this is no surprise. We know all this stuff. Even on the right people are willing to acknowledge this. But what really gets to me, is the framing of the article. That the wealthiest suffer because of the poor. And that because of this, horrid loss of income for the wealthiest, that they should consider things like a guaranteed income for the poorest. Apparently the program initiated in a few communities in the 70s has yielded great results (though no reference is given).

So, if you're rich, you should care about the poor because it means you'll get richer.


As for the Blatchford article. She laments how this woman dies, in an underfunded community housing site, due to the fact that only one or two social workers went 'above and beyond' the call of duty. As though this poor woman was the only person in need. Indeed she paints a picture of an unfeeling bureaucracy in a field where the burnout rate is exceptionally high, and is generally considered underfunded and frankly, where the renumeration for workers is not particularly great.
But that's Blatchford all over. Only looking at the individuals in a narrowly defined crisis. Not considering the systemic inequalities that drive these situations. Not in any real sense. She blames the ground level workers for not caring enough. For not being truly exceptional.

Well, that's because they're human. And there's no saying that they're not exceptional in other circumstances. Just not this one.

The common thread, in my mind, between the two articles is the manner in which they paint anyone not in the professional upper middle class framework either as incompetent (Blatchford) or as an investment opportunity (Paperny and Grant). Not as people.

And in the Paperny and Grant article, I'm willing to play ball with that, if it works.

I just don't like it.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Creating Narratives

So now the election is over. The conservatives won, but so did, on a relative scale, did the NDP. We have come to a clear delineation between two world views, collective and individual.

One the one hand, I think that this is a good thing. The Liberals, for so many years, have been the 'safe' bet. The compromise that we could all live with. No narrative, per se, but rather the balance point defined by desire and fear. Desire to do the right thing, and fear of paying too much.

 Our Nation, has not really chosen a narrative, like the Peacekeeper or Medicare or Balanced Budgets, rather they've pushed their way into our consciousness from the fringes - usually the NDP or Reform. To their credit though, it was the Liberals who brought all of these things to fruition on a national scale. But these successes were accompanied by a certain arrogance that rankled. Especially in the moment. And sometimes they failed. Look at the National Energy Program. And in the end, we could see the achievement only at the moment of culmination, or sometimes, only after it had become entrenched.

But in these last few years, we've gone from compromise to muddle.

So the Liberals now, are spent, and about bloody well time, I say. Now we have a Left/Right dichotomy in the House while I embrace the clarity this may bring, I fear that our story may become the American story. Only two ways are seen, and to entertain ideas from the other end of the spectrum is naught but treason.

The single largest benefit of a multi party system is that new ideas flow. Ideas force their way into the public narrative to create innovative public policy. I think that this Parliament will be useful, help us to once again have a clear Narrative from both ends, to show us distinct policies to help us define ourselves. Define our choices, costs and benefits.

Just keep in mind, please, that Policy is not just about solving problems, it's also an opportunity to dream, to see not just a safer future, but a better one.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Choose your own Adventure - Welcome to Electoral Politics

So, we're all disengaged from the current election. Expectations are that the voter turnout will be the lowest to date. The voters complain of a lack excitement, vision and alternatives.

We complain because we're addicted to being the audience. To watching the story, not being part of it. We're afraid of drama's that are bigger than us, the will always exceed our grasp, because they are about our world. But let's start small. Let's look at each of these complaints.

Well we lack the excitement of the last election in the US. But really, was that excitement a good thing. That country just came out of surviving the worst president the country had ever seen and in came a fabulous orator capable of inspiring hope. About a new beginning with real policy.
Then the rubber hit the road and his popularity drops like a stone – because policy is never about the quick and easy fix. If it was, policy would be easy. So politicians are cautions, because voters are.

This is a bullshit complaint – there's plenty of visions. It's just that true vision usually involves two things, risk and sacrifice. Now the fact that the electorate doesn't really yearn for these things from government is fine – I have no complaint with this (actually I do, but not wanting these things is a perfectly reason position to take).
So what we want is adventure without inconvenience. A video game. Not life. Sorry kids – there's plenty of visions – from the Greens to the Family Coalition. You want Vision, then bloody well take a chance.

Not quite the same as the above – though often related. There actually are alternatives. Politicians are not all crooks. But if you want a safe bet, but with some specific direction, then you have to pay attention. Now sometimes this is easy – in Canada we've had elections with very clear outcomes – FTA, NAFTA, Charlottetown, Deficit reduction (the Manning/Martin dynamic) and classically, the origins of Medicare.

So, assuming I'm correct in my evaluations above (a stretch I'm sure) why don't we just suck it up and vote?

For a couple of reasons. One is that very few people work to make politics accessible. Note that I'm not saying interesting, but accessible. Dave Meslin has a few great examples around this here:

It's a very short, very good talk, please take a look at it.
Also, if we do care, if we do engage, we are made to feel like patsies. Silly fucking romantics who can't face the ugly truth. Apathy is the only real alternative. When, of course, the reverse is true.

And finally, because we are addicted to the STORY. The beginning, middle and end.

Politics is always about now, and we never know the outcome and that frustrates the shit out of us. Leaves us guessing and worried and fearful. So we avoid it, concentrate on what we need to survive, rather than engage in the endless possible, but never guaranteed.

C'mon folks, be IN the story. Take a chance. The hero never really knows the outcome. And in electoral politics, you are the hero. Even now, whether you know it or not.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Big Man

So there's an election going on here in the great white north. Our esteemed PM has called it after being found in contempt of parliament and while I could be mistaken in this, I think a goodly portion of his core constituency will admire rather than disparage this. They will look at him as a man that will not bow to the fussing of a dysfunctional house - someone who will stand tall.
They will argue that he is a strong leader, who will do what it takes.

This is of course a gross simplification of what government does. People want a strong man, they want the person who will take charge, make all the idiots in the world stop fussing and get down to the brass tacks and make stuff happen.

Of course, the real world is rarely so simple. It requires negotiation. Accommodating awkward things like physics (as per the AECL debacle). But people don't want that - they want a nice neat story. I think it's one of the reasons we're drawn to stories - the nice neat tie up. The simple plot line where someone comes along and fixes things.

This is especially true of genre fiction - from mystery, romance, sci fi, action, fantasy. Especially fantasy. But it sneaks into our collective unconscious.  We look to heroes and kings. For someone to fix all our problems. And it never works, not for long. Not unless there is one very big problem. Like a war. Which is why Churchill was such a legend. He was the quintessential wartime primeminister but he had trouble presiding over Britain's decline as an imperial power.

So I say that we need to negotiate a new relationship with our heroes. Not to see them as the path to happy ever after, but rather as champions of a time. We need to appreciate and celebrate the fundamental ephemeral nature of the true hero. Let them find another path after the crisis and heroics so that their lives, and ours, are not always lost in the shadow of that flash of glory. to realize that building, while not glamorous, is as important as the great deed.

But this is hard. We are trapped by our sense of narrative - we want the hero trapped in that moment of glory. To reiterate the moment again and again and then fade when we get bored. How can any one live up to that. I'd hate to be Neil Armstrong. To have that perfect iconic moment define nearly everyone' s view of you. How hard is that?

But we keep doing this in our fiction - never giving the hero time beyond the heroics except as sepia toned epilogues. I think this has to change, though I don't know how to do this without turning fantasy into Munroe-like Can-Lit

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Opening Salvo

So - Politics and Metaphor.

I'm currently working on a novel - the White Bull, and in that process I've become increasingly fascinated with the society and politics of the typical fantasy world. Of course world building has a long tradition in this genre, but I think there are some fundamental themes that are pervasive, rarely acknowledged and hardly ever challenged.

One is the fascination with the 'noble bloodline'. Often these are lost bloodlines. Nobility fallen upon hard times until the protagonist is able to use those long hidden qualities to overcome petty politics and save the realm. This was at it's epitome in Tolkein, who I see as the progenitor of our genre - though you can even see it in much of golden age scifi as well, from Robert E. Howard to EE Doc Smith.

There are some authors who buck this trend - Steven Brust comes to mind - and while his world still revolves around the the fundamental reality of a nobility he does paint a great picture of the beginnings of a the revolution in "Teckla". I'd like to see more of this "low fantasy" genre - see the revolution come. See Aragorn up against the wall.

See that attitude sink deeper into our own culture - one that still reveres the bloodline - from the English Nobility to the Trudeau and Kennedy dynasties.

Screw that, I say Vive La Revolution.